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25 Strategies to Engage Students on Your Next Zoom Meeting

Now that we have all been thrust into the world of online learning, we have to figure out ways as educators to engage our students when they are online. Some of the first things schools did when shifting to remote learning was to hold regular video meetings with their students. These can vary based on the ages of the students and the frequency of when a teacher interacts with their students, but most teachers realized quickly that they can’t use the same behavioral strategies (like proximity) that they use in a physical classroom. This can lead to a lack of student engagement and involvement in what is trying to be taught regardless of age.

These 25 strategies listed here are not meant to take the place of deeper learning. That kind of learning is generally better when done with a mix of asynchronous learning. That said, in order to get our students to that deeper state of learning with greater depth of knowledge (DOK) levels, we need to make sure they are engaged when we have synchronous conversations and discussions. Some of these strategies take little set-up while others might take more time and energy to make them really successful. The purpose of these tools is to draw students into the lesson/activity and make them engaged and looking forward to your next virtual class meeting.

While there are a lot of video meeting solutions out there, I’m going to focus many of the tools around the Zoom platform as it has some of the best interactive features and seems to be the most widely accepted in K-12 schools across the country. However, as many of these strategies can be used with any video platform or device, I only focused on Zoom-centric ideas on the first 5 strategies, the rest you can use on any platform. Also, kids (especially teenagers) can say and do that darnedest things, especially when being remotely hidden behind a screen. As you would with the physical classroom, I would strongly encourage teachers discuss norms when it comes to interacting over video chat with their students prior to any of these strategies.

Here are 25 strategies to engage students on your next Zoom meeting:

1. Share your screen 

I’m going to start out with one of the basics. While you may be doing many of your chats with just video, don’t forget that you have the ability to share part or all of your screen with your students. This can be something as simple as sharing a question of the day to an entire slide show. If you have a slideshow that you’ve already created for use in your classroom, don’t recreate the wheel, just launch it on your share screen and use built in Zoom tools like ‘raise hand’ or the chat room to have a floating backchannel as you go through your slides. One bit of advice, check what items you have on your desktop and in your “favorites” bar of an internet browser before you share that with your students. There’s nothing more embarrassing than you students seeing your latest beach pic or maybe your bookmark for you favorite drink recipe.

2. Use the Whiteboard feature

Of course, if you don’t want to share your screen you can always use the built-in whiteboard feature that comes with Zoom. This feature can take some getting used to, especially if you are using a mouse or trackpad. To use it, simply go to share your screen and choose “whiteboard”. A little tip – if you have tablet like an iPad, install the Zoom app and then join the meeting with your iPad as well. This works better for drawing especially if you have a nice stylus or Apple Pencil. (just be careful you have one of the devices muted to avoid echoes) Of course, as you get more comfortable with Zoom and student expectations, let your students also use the whiteboard feature to share their understanding. If you are not using Zoom, a tool like Classroomscreen.com has a bevy of tools including a whiteboard if you share your screen with your students.

3. Enable the Annotation Features

Another feature that you could use when sharing slides, photos, or websites is the annotation tools. You’ll want to check your account settings to make sure these features are enabled by default. Having these tools enabled, you’ll be able write over any image, highlight certain features of a website, and make the viewing experience for your students much more interactive.

4. Create breakout rooms for collaboration

My favorite of all the Zoom features for learning is the ability to create breakout rooms for your students. Unlike whiteboard and annotation features, the ability to create breakout rooms are not enabled by default. You’ll want to go into your account settings to enable this ability before using it with your students. Once enabled, you can have Zoom either automatically or manually assign students into rooms. Even if it’s automatically assigning, you can swap students out depending on group dynamics (note: it helps to have your students put their name on their Zoom login). You can even rename the rooms depending on group names or topics before assigning certain students to each room. The great thing about these rooms is that it can create a more collaborative setting than the large whole-group zoom experience. As the moderator you can float around and join rooms to check in on the discussion, post an announcement to all rooms, or even place a time limit on them. Once you ask students to rejoin the whole group and end the breakouts, they’ll have 60-seconds to wrap-up their discussion and rejoin. A powerful way to enable collaboration remotely! Check out the video below for a quick how-to:

5. Virtual backgrounds can be more than just fun

If you’ve been in any Zoom meeting the past couple of months, you’ve probably seen all sorts of crazy and fun virtual backgrounds. These can be hilarious but also distracting so some educators have disabled this feature for their group meetings. However, there could be some productive uses of these virtual backgrounds. Some examples of using virtual backgrounds might be re-enacting moments in history with the appropriate backdrop, selecting a geographic landmark they might be studying or “visiting” virtually, or just having students select either a solid green or red background to quickly show if they agree or disagree with a topic (hint: use Grid view for this). No matter the reason, virtual backgrounds can be much more than everyone acting like they are a character from The Office.

6. Play “I Spy” Backgrounds

If you really want your students to focus on everyone in the classroom, play a game of “I Spy” backgrounds. You can do this either with or without virtual backgrounds, but in essence you are describing things that you notice in the background of someone’s zoom call. Students then quickly have to search all the attendees and see which student’s background is being described. A fun, 5-minute way to get students hooked into their next Zoom meeting.

7. Scavenger Hunts

Probably one of the most popular games to play with students is a virtual scavenger hunt. The premise is simple, you have a list of items and then ask students to run through their house or apartment attempting to find the items and show them on the screen. A quick word of advice on this is to be sure you are not picking exact objects for them to find like “a toy cell phone”. Rather, create a category that could involve all sorts of different objects that qualify like “an object with numbers on it.”  This will reveal a lot of different interpretations of the clue as well as not limiting what students can find around them. You could also use software like Eventzee or Goosechase to do a virtual scavenger hunt throughout the day or week where students capture items you’ve identified with their camera.

8. Live Quiz or Trivia

Last week, I got to host a virtual trivia night via Zoom. We had over 150 people during the event that drew lots of positive feedback for keeping them engaged while also doing something fun during this stressful time. I used a pro-level software called Crowdpurr to run my event, but I could just as easily do something similar using a tool like Kahoot! or Quizziz. These quizzes or trivia can either be done live or student-paced. Having the scores decrease as time dwindles down on each question also prevents students from “googling” the answers as it will affect their score. Check out the latest “Challenge” feature within Kahoot to create more of a self-paced challenge for your students that might have limited access to technology or can’t participate synchronously.

9. Survey your students

In the classroom, we use the classic “raise your hand” to gather feedback from students. In Zoom, it’s no different as there is a “Raise hand” button available to students, but some savvy teachers have also figured out that the chat room can act as an impromptu survey as long as it involves brief responses. For better tracking, you could always use a tools like Nearpod, Polleverywhere, or Peardeck to gather feedback via a second screen or browser tab. Playing a game like “would you rather” would work well to test this out before using it more in-depth in later lessons.

10. Brainstorming ideas 

Gathering feedback in polls is one way to interact with students, but you could also use a shared collaborative space like a Padlet or Ziteboard to have students discuss and brainstorm ideas on shared spaces. You could also combine this with the breakout rooms (#4 from above) to have each group brainstorm a topic while you navigate from board to board. A tip here is to create the “walls” or spaces for the students to collaborate on so that you have a live link to what they are working on. Once you’ve split them into groups, share your link to each group to work on.

11. Interactive presentations

Yes, you can share your screen and even your slides with your students via a tool like Google Slides, Keynote or Powerpoint. But since you have them live, why not use a tool like Nearpod to actually guide them through the learning with you. Ideally, this would work best with two screens, but since everything these days is web-based you could guide them through the presentation on one screen while they follow along to your voice on the other. Doing this on an iPad? Share the join code with your students and then have them switch to the Nearpod app while leaving the Zoom app open in the background so they can hear your voice while following along. Of course, one of the best parts of using a tool like Nearpod is all the extra features like Virtual field trips, 3D models, Microsoft Sway, collaborative boards and more. One thing I’ve tried that worked well was embedding a PollEverywhere poll within my Nearpod. That way students didn’t have to jump out of the app ever.

12. Embrace the pause

Silence can be awkward in the classroom. It’s even more awkward when you are looking at more than two dozen teenagers on the screen. That said, it’s important to let students pause and reflect throughout the lesson. Using a countdown timer either on a slide, video or on a tool like ClassroomScreen.com helps students know when they should break from their pause or reflection. As I will mention on my next point, students need breaks from lengthy instruction throughout their day whether they be on a screen or not. If you are hosting a 50-minute lesson online, build in a 5 minute break for students to stretch or get a glass of water to keep their brain active.

13. Brainbreaks

Taking breaks throughout a lengthy lesson are important whether it be for a reflective pause or just an opportunity to stretch. Using tools like GoNoodle, teachers can lead a virtual dance party in their remote classroom to get the kids up and moving. One word of advice here, if you are playing a video through your system speakers, make sure you don’t have headphones on or adjust the audio source in Zoom by clicking on the up-carrot symbol next to “Mute” to change your selection of audio output. (see image on the right)

14. Reveal your answer

With everything being digital, it’s also nice to take a break from digital as you already have a Zoom meeting occupying the students’ screens. There are a wide variety of analog strategies you could use with your students by using paper and pencil. One might be sharing a math problem on your screen while students work out the results. Then, countdown and have them reveal their answers to their cameras at the same time. I’ve also seen teachers have success doing a “directed drawing” by pointing their webcam or phone camera down to a sheet a paper while they give instruction and then have students share their creations at the end.

15. Box of Lies

A big struggle with online learning via video is keeping students focus and attention, especially to the finer details. The game “Box of Lies” was made popular by Jimmy Fallon (video below) and would be a creative way to see if students are paying attention. The premise would be that the teacher or student has an object out of camera view and then has to describe the object. You could do this with all sorts of other ideas from historical figures to using descriptive words in another language.

 

16. Monster drawing

Taking that directed drawing from #14 to the next level by doing a Monster drawing. In this activity, a teacher or student read aloud descriptions of their drawing but don’t let other students see it. They have listen for information like “my monster has a rectangle body” or “my monster has 5 eyes, one of them is big and in the middle” to figure out the drawing. This helps kids both with descriptive words but also with listening and translating. In the end, have students show their creations on the screen to see who got closest to the description. This activity could be used in other areas as well such as re-creating a story character or describing a graph in math.

17. Organize projects online

Distance learning doesn’t just have to be about kids filling out digital worksheets or playing online learning games. Students can still do long-term projects either individually or in groups even though they final results may be different than what was done traditionally in the classroom. Using online project management and productivity tools like Trello, MeisterTask or ClickUp can help students struggling with organization and timelines. Coupling those tools with video meeting check-ins can help kids learn how to collaborate and complete a project online over a length of time.

18. Breakout a Digital BreakOut EDU

BreakoutEDU has always been one of my favorite ways to engage students of all ages by creating a series of clues and challenges that the students have to uncover. For the last couple of years they’ve been offering Digital BreakOutEDU as an online version of their platform. Teachers could leverage the “breakout” room feature of Zoom with a Digital BreakOutEDU and have teams solve the challenges within a certain timeframe. The great thing about their platform is they have already done most of the heavy lifting in creating the BreakOuts for you based on subject and age level. You can also check out this “Build Your Own” resource if you don’t have the funds to purchase a subscription.

19. Who’s who?

A fun non-tech game to play is “Who’s who?”.  In this game, students privately message the teacher some facts about themselves and then the teacher reveals the clues. Students then write down their guesses as to who the person is based on the clues. This could also be turned into “Two truths and a lie” fairly easily. Other adaptations could be students sending clues about historical figures, book characters, etc. that the class has to figure out.

20. Play BINGO

Who doesn’t love a good game of BINGO? While this isn’t the classic game with numbers, balls, and clever calls, it is using the set-up of Bingo as a way to review facts, geographical locations, scientific terms, or even mathematical applications. Using the Flippity.net BINGO tool, you create what goes in the squares and then you read out the clues while students fill out their own digital square or by printing a game card. Flippity actually lets you send out the cards via link or QR code as kids can fill in their cards digitally. Then when it’s over, have them share their screen and review their answers to see who wins!

21. Host a Game Show

Amongst some of the other Flippity.net tools is the classic Jeopardy-like game show. A great way to review information for a unit or novel study, you can fill in the back-end answers using a Google spreadsheet and then share your screen with the game board. Students can play individually, or you could pre-assign teams and then send them to breakout rooms to discuss what they think the answer might be.

22. Story Progression

You remember the “telephone game” or maybe the game “one-word stories”? This is a similar concept where you start the story and have random students add the next line. A story could start with “Once upon a time….” and then you could select the student by unmuting their mic. By doing it randomly rather than in a specific order, you cause all students to be thinking of a response rather than just waiting until their turn. Mix it up with story recaps or historical fiction to see what they come up with.

23. Autodraw Slam

For those of us that are not budding artists or struggle with drawing with a mouse, I’ve long been a fan of Autodraw.com. This web-based application has you draw out a shape as close as you can while the AI guesses what it might be. When you see an object that is close to what you are drawing, you select it to place into your drawing. One fun thing I’ve tried with this is having students draw their favorite movie scene and then putting the picture on a Padlet wall for everyone to guess the movie.

24. Digital Flashcards

Flashcards can be pretty boring, especially if you are just using them yourself to practice terms, definitions or maybe even a foreign language. Now that we are remote, it becomes even more challenging to find a partner or group to practice with. Using tools like Fishbowl and Quizlet Live can be leveraged to create fun and energizing ways to have kids practice their terms either as a group or in breakout rooms.

25. Polygraph Questions

One of the hidden nuggets I always love showing teachers is the Polygraph feature contained within the free, web-based math app called Desmos. This tool acts creates a “Guess who?” like game where 2 students are randomly paired up via a join code you share with them on the screen. You create the cards and student A choses one of the items to be their “mystery item”. As you can upload any image, the mystery item could be a person, place, thing, word, math problem, etc. Then student B has to ask yes or no questions and decide which items they can eliminate. Polygraph creates a private loop between the students and the teacher can see the questions and guesses that each student is making to better check for understanding.

Additional Resources:

While most of these activities I either have done with students or teachers (both live and online), there are hundreds of other resources and games out there available to use freely with your students as you teach remotely. Here are two that I’ll give shout-outs to as I found them while writing this post:

TCEA Tech Notes – Zoom Games – This post came out while I was writing this post and contains many other games like the scavenger hunt and Pictionary that teachers could benefit from using.

Quarantine Games – This google doc compiled by @ihartnia has pages of board games, card games, and other things that you can play online.

I hope you enjoy my list and please feel free to share any other games or ideas you have in the comments below. Here’s an infographic with all 25 of the strategies (ironically) on a Zoom call. 🙂

Stay safe and stay sane!

 

The Power of an Outside Voice – A Reflection on Professional Learning

I spent the past 21 years in education as a teacher and administrator. During that time I spent a great deal of my efforts on bringing high quality professional learning to our staff and community. In many cases, the professional learning events we provided would have not been possible without the help and support of an amazing team of educational technologists and coaches. While surveys and reviews of our work was always very positive, I started to learn during my career that sometimes, teachers need a change of voice and perspective to inspire them.

In 2011, I remember Dean Shareski being in Austin for a TEC-SIG event. I’d followed Dean on twitter like thousands of other educators and had been a part of his highly engaging conference sessions. When our librarian (Carolyn Foote – a superstar in her own right) told me that Dean was willing to come in a day early and do some training with staff, I jumped on the opportunity.

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Dean spent the entire day at Westlake High School training teachers on digital literacy, creativity and the importance of building a good network. While these were all things that Carolyn and I had been preaching to staff for years, there was something magical that happened when Dean said it. The staff lit up with ideas and began to come to us inspired to try new things.

As I left that day, I remembered two things that have stuck with me and are now the driving force in my new career as an educational consultant and speaker:

  1. Timing is everything when it comes to having a culture ready to try new things along with the tools and support with which to implement the change.
  2. Having an outside voice validate and align with your beliefs while also inspiring staff is a powerful catalyst to implementing campus and district-wide change.

Dean on stage at ISTE with me during his 2018 poetry slam

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Dean better as well as many other educators that travel the world making an impact on education through story-telling, resource-sharing, and idea-inspiring professional learning. As someone who now does this for a living, I hold that responsibility with the upmost importance. A district is putting their trust in me to not only align with their vision, but also inspire their staff to grow, innovate and learn.

Flash forward to the fall of 2018.

Our district had run several extremely successful professional learning events with iPadpalooza and LearnFestATX. These events brought in speakers and ideas from all over the world. Our staff were exposed to some of the greatest minds and most passionate educators I had ever met. As we were gearing up for our 2018 Professional Learning Conference (an internal-only event required of all staff to attend at the beginning of the school year), we debated who to bring in as a keynote speaker. In the past we had brought in a mixed bag of speakers. Some were inspirational (like Angela Maiers) and others were not as well received for a variety of reasons.

When we surveyed the staff the number one reason why they didn’t respond well to certain speakers, the top reason was a lack of authenticity. They felt as they were being sold an idea that either they weren’t ready for or felt like they didn’t have the support for (see my reason #1 above on timing). One staff member even wrote in her review of a particular speaker that she felt like she was “listening to a used car salesman”. Those reviews and the feelings of staff have greatly affected the way I do things when handed a microphone and a stage, but also really put the pressure on me and my team to bring in the best speaker possible. One that was authentic and would inspire as well as someone who truly cared about being on stage and sharing their story.

Tom Murray on stage during our 2018 PLC event

Enter Tom Murray. I’d gotten to know Tom over the years through my work with his organization Future Ready Schools. He and I share similar beliefs and approaches when it comes to making the most of your opportunity on stage in front of a school staff. As we are friends, I didn’t want to introduce him as I felt like that could affect perceptions of the staff (“oh, it’s one of Carl’s friends), and wanted to see how they would take him without any background. One of the trademark moments of many of Tom’s talks is a part where he talks about “misunderstood song lyrics” and how what we communicate can sometimes be misread. While I’ve seen him do it a bunch of times, it culminates with the crowd singing Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer with extreme enthusiasm.

Knowing my staff as well as I thought I did, I bet Tom back stage that there was NO WAY the staff would respond to this. Needless to say, I completely lost my bet. Not only did they respond to him, his message, and his story, when the Bon Jovi part came, they stood up and sang. And not just the next lyric, they sang the ENTIRE SONG!(See below) Later, I came on stage as Tom received one of the first standing ovations I can ever remember our staff giving.  I told the crowd that he was my friend, but if he didn’t do well, I was going to claim I didn’t know him :).

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Tom, Dean, Angela, and others have spent thousands of hours working on their craft as orators of information. They truly embrace the opportunity to share with staff from all over the world. They provide an authentic and different voice that schools need when the timing is right. This blog isn’t necessarily a tribute to them, but more of a reflection of an “awakening” I had while being in their presence as well as the many amazing speakers we had hosted over the years.

Having someone who agrees with your vision and can effectively articulate your message is a powerful thing. If the timing is right and the staff is ready to hear the message, brining in the right outside voice can have a positive impact on your learning culture for years to come. And most importantly, as teachers take ownership of that message, it will ultimately impact the learning of thousands of kids in classrooms in your school.

School districts spend millions on technology and flexible furniture, but the hardest thing to change is pedagogy and culture. Do not feel like you have to do it all by yourself. Bring in authentic voices to help you light a fire behind your vision and use them as a catalyst for the change your striving for.

I for one am glad we did with Dean, Tom and Angela. Their impact and support over the years is still with me and I will forever be grateful to them for both inspiring me and seeing the power of this work.

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Interested in bringing Carl in as an outside voice for your next event? Reach out here: Mrhook.it/speak

Bold Predictions Sure To Go Wrong in 2020

A new year AND a new decade.  WOW. That went by pretty fast. It feels like just last year I was in the classroom trying to figure out why the Reader Rabbit CDs weren’t working on my Compaq computer. A lot has changed in the past decade and a lot WILL change in the next one. It’s hard to believe that I’ve done these predictive posts every year now since 2013.

Last year, one prediction that I totally missed was that I would leave my district administration job after 21 years in schools to take on the role of full-time consulting and speaking. While I didn’t predict that, I can say that so far I’ve loved working with schools and conferences all over the world to collaborate on thoughts and ideas for improving education. When it comes to my predictions over the last 7 years, my success rate has been around 50% which is much better than any baseball player or professional gambler.

That said, these predictions are meant to be taken with a grain of salt. They are meant to challenge both your thinking and mine. Some of them may seem like a future Black Mirror episode while others are just silly, but I’m trying to be BOLD so cut me some slack. So buckle up for 2020!

Social Media gets a mute button

With the 2020 election coming up at the end of the year, you know social media will be rabid with people from both sides of the aisle as well as a LARGE amount of trolls from Russia. While some companies like Facebook have tinkered with a snooze button, I think this is the year that an app comes out that takes all of your social media, text messages, emails, smoke signals, etc. and mutes them all for a period of time. This would be much simpler then having to delete all of your accounts or even mess with notification settings (although those are good skills to teach students).

A school goes 1:1….exercise bikes

Last week I caught wind of a tweet by @MrHamiltonPE (which as since been deleted) where they started a “READ and RIDE” program at their school designed to get some motion into their day. Almost immediately twitter tore it apart claiming it had to have been an article from the Onion or at best it was a misinterpretation of “active learners”. Part of the dangers of thinking differently is that you risk ridicule, but I don’t think the concept is completely out of realm of possibility. Personally, part of my daily routine is to now spend an hour on a stationary bike doing research or reading a book. Movement is a good thing when it comes to increasing oxygen levels in the brain and awaking the receptors for learning. So while this strategy might not be the right fit, there is something to adding more movement to the classroom. So why not go 1:1 with exercise bikes?  Remember when we used to spend thousands of dollars on eClickers?

With gamification and Orange Theories popping up everywhere, it might only be a time before a tool like CyclePath becomes widespread.  It connects to games that you play on a mobile device so if you want to run in the game, you have to actually cycle faster.  Not a terrible idea…

The Ed Poet’s Society goes Global

Back in 2017, following Lisa Johnson’s inspiration, we began an Ed Tech Poetry Slam (click here to watch the ISTE 2018 version). What started as a fun after-conference event idea has grown substantially since then, mostly due to the amazing educators who are a part of the Ed Poet’s Society. Brett Salakas (@mrsalakas) has taken this idea to Australia and really started to run with it, hosting his own poetry slam events down under. This year, he and I have a couple of tricks up our sleeves, but our hope is that this becomes less a prediction and more of a self-fulfilling prophecy as we try to make Ed Poet’s a global phenomenon. Stay tuned!

The 2020 Election will be heavily influenced by TikTok

As I mentioned in my first post, social media will play a huge role in the 2020 election. This particular prediction may have seemed crazy a few years ago, but when you think about how the last few years have gone with our leaders and their use of social media, is this really out of the realm of possibilities?  I think with TikTok announcing tighter security measures and guidelines last week, they are setting up to potentially be the go to source for where the masses get their information. While the company wants to remain politics free, this is social media…they should know by now that they have no control over that. This year, the election will be televised! (in little 10-15 second cute, loopy videos)

Elon Musk takes a crack at “disrupting” education

Will this be the year Musk takes a crack at education?

The mogul has taken on space travel with SpaceX and extremely strange concept electronic cybertruck recently. He is known for taking on concepts and ideas that seem to be rooted in traditionalism and then re-imaging them. So why not education? It’s 2020 and we are still hearing terms about how education needs to take a step into the 21st century. Flexible furniture and mobile devices aren’t enough, we need significant changes in mindset and vision. Time for Mr. Musk to take a crack at disrupting education. Let’s just hope it turns out better than his truck windows.

The Ambient Classroom becomes a concept

We’ve heard a lot about artificial intelligence and the use of digital assistants like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa to help us through our day at home. Despite some security concerns, some schools have even started to implement programs with the consumer listening device in classrooms. This isn’t a new thing as you can find articles from the past couple of years about using inexpensive Echo Dots in the classroom.  “Ambient Intelligence” is the next level in artificial intelligence and I predict (assuming security concerns are addressed), that it could have a HUGE impact in the classroom.  Imagine a classroom environment that adjusts based on the mood, lesson, time of day, activity, etc? It is technology that actually reacts to the users in the room. How’s that for personalized learning?

“WiFi for All” finally happens

In 2013, President Barack Obama announced his ConnectEd initiative with the goal of getting internet access to underserved schools all over the country. While this has only been mildly successful, there are still many without access. With the rapid push towards 5G and the launch of satellite internet in the past year, there should be a point in the near future where students shouldn’t have to go to Starbucks for free WiFi. The LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites launched by Amazon and Tesla claim to offer robust internet access to even the most rural communities. Not only that, but with more internet options (like in my neighborhood, where I only have one), that would mean competitive pricing for current internet services. So, while it might not be free yet, I think we are closer to being a completely internet-saturated country, which will be important for all the TikTok videos we’ll be watching this year.

The micro-projector movement takes hold

A kindergarten teacher does small group instruction as her Nebula projects her iPad in the background

Remember back in the day when schools would spend over $5000 to install an interactive whiteboard to be mounted on the wall? It was one of ed tech’s early attempts at “modernizing” the classroom, but in reality, it only perpetuated the ‘sage on the stage’ approach to learning. Now many districts are shifting to large, mobile interactive displays. While I like that these are becoming more mobile, they are not very cost-effective for the district trying to keep their budget afloat. One of the districts I consult with was trying to come up with an idea for making presenting information more mobile but at a lower price than those large mobile displays. We decided to try a mobile micro-projector. For around $250, they purchased a handful of these Nebula Capsule and almost immediately saw benefits to both teacher and students in having an alternate way to display information. With built-in airplay and an HDMI port, any device can connect and display information on a flat surface. The screen instantly adjusts and bezels based on what it is projecting on. (hint – the lighter the color of the surface the better) It was amazing to see how just having one other projector made the classroom much more dynamic and less “front of the room” focused.

I will publish three VERY different books this year

I’ve been predicting that I will publish a children’s book for the last 3 years and failed on that prediction every year, but this year, I’m raising the bar.

This year I will publish 3 books in three different genres.

This prediction could be more about me blackmailing, but I already have the early ground work laid to make this happen. I’m hopeful I can find a willing publisher out there to take a risk with me, but if not, maybe I’ll take the ultimate risk and self-publish!

There you have it folks. My latest bold predictions for tech and it’s impact on education in 2020. One thing I didn’t list is less of a prediction and more of a hope. As I travel around in my new role, I hope that I get the opportunity to meet and engage in conversation with more fellow educators and colleagues. Despite all the excitement and rapid changes in technology, I still find that having good discussions with thoughtful educators is the biggest thrill for me.

I wish you all an innovative and safe 2020 and hope to see you at an event in your neighborhood this year!

My #NextChapter: Taking the LEAP

Anyone who knows me, knows I always have a soundtrack for different parts of my life. Friends and colleagues have shared with me that certain songs speak to them at certain parts of their lives. For me, the song currently speaking to me for this part of my life is the Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime. As a new school year kicks off, I find myself in a strange place. For the first time in 21 years, I’m not running around trying to help classrooms get set up with their technology, updating iPads, training new teachers, or helping with district-wide professional learning.

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

About 15 months ago I was wandering around New Orleans and stumbled into a local coffee shop. They had a bookshelf full of books with “Free- take one” labeled on each cover. My eyes were drawn immediately to the cover and title of this particular book:

The title caught my attention because that’s exactly the title we used when we launched our 1:1 program in 2011. Our LEAP program stood for “Learning and Engaging through Access and Personalization”, and while it was centered around 1:1 iPads, what made it successful was the learning. Seeing the subtitle for this book did intrigue me, but when I got home from the trip, I set it on my bookshelf in my personal office and didn’t read it….for almost a year.

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…

Flash forward to this past spring. As I’ve told many a friend and colleague in person, there are always signs out there for us to see, and sometimes, they have to be banging you across the head to notice them. With some changes coming to both vision and structure in my now former district and increasing requests for my speaking and consulting side-work, I knew a decision was imminent.

While sitting at home over spring break, I began to discuss the possibility of leaving the 9-to-5 (more like 8-6) work as a district administrator to head into the freelance market of the “Gig Economy.” I discussed this with the one person in my life that has steered me right more than wrong, the mother of my kids….my wife.

“Sometimes, you just need to move on. If you don’t do this, you’ll regret it,” she said.

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife…

That all sounds well and good. After all, I’m the type of person that likes to push people to take risks, yet now, for some reason, I was waffling. Tons of questions swirled around my brain including:

Am I ready to leave 21 years of education behind?

How will I continue to be relevant?

What about private health care? (this one still scares me)

How will this effect my kids who are going to school in the district I work?

I’ve received a monthly pay check since I was 16-years old. How will my family handle the uncertainty of consultant and speaking work?

All of these questions and fears started to creep into my mind.

And you may ask yourself – Am I right? Am I wrong?

To be honest, I still don’t have answers for many of those questions, but in the weeks that have followed, answers have begun to seek me out. Below are some of the main items I weighed before making this decision to take the LEAP:

Time

I think I spent a total of 85 days at my house this past year. From the main work and the travel of the side work, my days and evenings are pretty

Reflecting on what’s important…

well tapped. Late night board meetings, random travel changes, and staying up late to work on a project all took time away from my family. While I know travel will increase some in this new role, I’m excited with the opportunity to spend more time with my kids, my wife, and my parents who live near us. That kind of time is precious and you can’t put a price on it. Too often, we become a slave to daily grind and carry that work home with us. The benefit of time with family was the number one motivator for me to make the decision to leave full-time district work.

Time isn’t holding up, time is after us

Relevancy

I never want to turn into one of those talking heads on stage that hasn’t stepped foot in an actual school in decades. I’ve had the good fortune recently to be hired on as a part-time consultant in a couple of amazing school districts. Having these consulting opportunities in place allow me to both be a part of district decisions and model learning in the classroom with actual students. I always find my energy from the kids, so having these in my back pocket to maintain relevance helped with my ultimate decision.

And you may ask yourself, how do I work this?

Other Creative Opportunities

I’ve built up a very supportive and inspiring network of friends, colleagues, and companies over the years in my role at the district. Many have asked me about collaborating on different ideas and concepts but I simply haven’t had the time. My hope now is that I can devote some energy into those collaborations and seek out some creative opportunities that might have not happened while juggling all the work. In fact, some plans and collaborations are already in the works! In the coming weeks and months, you should start seeing the result of these as I try to impact the larger scope of education across the country.

I’m soft-launching my site this week: CarlHooker.com. If you’d like to seek out my services as a consultant, speaker, MC, event organizer or creative collaborator, go there. I’m excited for the opportunity to connect and collaborate with even more educators across the world now!

Letting the days go by…

Self-care

I feel like there are 5 things that garner the majority of our attention: Family, spouse, work, friends, and self. These things change in order based on the time of year or whatever your current relationships look like. As this blog is all about me being honest, I’ll tell you that the last item on the list has really suffered lately. As my attention focused on the other 4 items, I spent little to no attention to self-care. That inattention has caused increased stress, blood pressure, weight gain, and insomnia. It’s hard to be productive as a father, husband, or employee with my own mind and body falling apart. While I’ll now have different stresses to manage, I feel like I’ll have extra time to manage those with healthier eating habits and exercise, which ironically should help the other four areas that need my attention.

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

 

After my last day at “work”, I found myself behind the wheel of a large automobile as my family and I embarked on a 3-week RV expedition across the eastern United States. Having that gap and family time really confirmed my belief that this could all be possible and might just all work out. The journey ahead won’t necessarily be better or worse, it’ll just be different. I’ll miss many of the great students and teachers that I got to work with in my previous role, but also look forward to the many more teachers and students I’ll have the opportunity to work with in the future.

As a reader of my blogs and someone who’s made it this far on this post, I hope you’ll continue to come along with me on this #NextChapter of my journey and that our paths may cross in the future.

After all, you may ask yourself, where does that highway go to?

A Love Letter to the Teachers of Eanes ISD


“All good things must come to an end.”

Who said that? Do they really have to end? Does it always have to be the good things that end?

I’ve spent the past 21 years of my life in public education and the past 13 at this amazing district known as the Eanes Independent School District. During my time here, I’ve had three incredible children enter the world and the schools here. I’ve made connections and friendships with families, the community, legislators, business leaders and beyond.

To say it’s been an incredible journey is a gross understatement. While I am somewhat torn emotionally at the fact that this will be my final year at Eanes ISD, I’m also excited for what the next chapter in my life will bring and where this ride will take me. As I often do, lately I have been reflecting on my time here and all that WE accomplished. Without a doubt, the highlight of my career has been working with the incredible teachers in this district. You inspire me, make me laugh, make me grow, and push my beliefs. We’ve shared thoughts, ideas, tears, and struggles.

To the teachers of Eanes ISD, I cannot thank you enough for all that you’ve given me and my family.  So, before I go, I wanted to write you this love letter.

Have confidence in yourself. You have one of the hardest jobs on the planet, helping young humans learn. Know that this is EXTREMELY hard, but you pull it off with ease. Continue to have confidence in yourself and it will translate into even better experiences for you, your students and those around you.

Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. It’s much easier to just do the bare minimum or to not try something new. When I started in my current role here in 2010, integrating technology meant something COMPLETELY different than it does today. That said, the mindset around technology, while ripe with challenges, shouldn’t change our mission. The mission is NOT to raise kids, but to raise ADULTS ready for the world in front of them. Sometimes that means struggling with new things or trying a new idea that may fail, but remember to keep your confidence and your chin up through those times of struggle.

Change is inevitable and constant. When I started in this district, I always had a 3-year plan. Every 3 years I’d change schools or jobs. It took me 13 years to enact on my 3-year plan, largely due to the amazing community here. I changed my belief that I needed to constantly be changing jobs. My new goal was to see all three of my kids graduate from Westlake High School.

But now, that plan has also changed.

There will be many people that come in and out of your life here. There will be new standards to teach. New rules and policies to follow. And yes, technology will change (in fact, quite rapidly). You can either fear the change or embrace it. That sounds easy enough to do, “embrace change”. However I’m going to challenge you to also think about and question change when it happens. Understanding the “why” behind something is an important step in owning whatever the change is.

Have an opinion and don’t be afraid to express it. In fact, you are obligated to express it. We can’t continue to grow as a society or district or organization if everyone nods their head and moves on. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. A couple of years ago we started a “League of Innovators” with this purpose. These teachers applied to be a part of group with the ultimate goal of improving the district as a whole, not just around technology. I cherish my time with those in the league and the impact they had on our program. Please continue to express your opinion, even when it’s scary.

Whenever possible, be transparent. Trust is built around communication and transparency. Be open to letting others come into your classroom and growing from their feedback. Expect the same transparency from your leaders, as it will also help them and the school grow as a result of having open conversations.

The struggle is real, but move past it. We all have things that we bring to work with us. From personal issues to family health, stress and struggle are a part of all of our lives. It’s how we handle it that makes the difference, not only to ourselves, but our students. We are humans teaching humans. We are in this for the outcome, not the income. Don’t let your bad days get the better of you and don’t let your best days go to your head. Try your best to keep your #EnergyForward.

There will be days when you feel like you are on an island. You close your door with a single goal of teaching the kids in the room in front of you. Never forget how amazing it is to help kids learn, but also never forget that even if you feel alone, you are not. Lean on your colleagues. Lean on your friends. Lean on your family. After all, learning is better when played as a team sport.

Know there’s a bigger picture and it’s not just about making people comfortable. With transparency and openness comes discomfort. Humans are built to avoid conflict. Since the early days of life, if we sense danger, we either fight it or flee from it. This evolutionary trait will not change overnight, but we can try and overcome it to engage in meaningful discourse. We can’t progress as a society if we spend all of our time either being compliant or having well thought out arguments typed on a Facebook thread. Disagreement and discomfort can be a good thing if it takes us all to a better place.

Don’t be stifled by fear. There will be times when you are afraid to try something new. While there are always consequences for actions, that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try something. Fear can be suffocating to innovation and creativity. Take well-thought out risks that help improve learning and engagement for your students. Mistakes may happen, but modeling how you learn from those mistakes makes a lasting impression on the students in your classroom.

Creativity is born out of struggle. There will always be some roadblocks on the path to success. Time. Money. Resources. Restrictive filters. When embarking on a new idea or project with your kids, embrace the failures and learn from them. Don’t give up. Roadblocks are there to slow you down, not stop you.

You are a rockstar. You are the front line. Students will graduate. Families move out. Administrators will come and go. Change happens. Roadblocks will try to slow you down. You have to be the one to set an example for your students. You have to show them how to struggle and how to persevere. You have to put a smile on your face when an angry parent misunderstands what their 6-year-old told them you said. You have to grin and bear it when a new policy or directive from the state is passed into your classroom. These things are not easy. But you didn’t get into this profession for easy.  You go into this profession to make a difference.

Know that you have made a tremendous difference on one individual and his family. I thank you all for making these last 13 years amongst the best in my life. I will miss the day-to-day friendships. I will miss the philosophical debates. I will miss a teacher running up to me inspired with a crazy idea to improve learning in their class and then helping them achieve it. I will miss leading professional learning for you in a multitude of forms (online, workshops, LearnFestATX, etc). Most regrettably, I’ll miss being able to work alongside you.

As I head into the my next chapter as a full-time consultant and speaker, know that I carry with me the collective passion and knowledge of the incredible teachers I’ve worked with during my time here. I don’t know where this next chapter of my life we ultimately take me, but, because of your support, I do know this….it will KICK ASS.

With love from your colleague,

Carl